Origins and Growth
- 1909-1910: American Methodist missionary Willis Hoover encourages his fellow Methodists to seek charismatic gifts. Hoover reports that his congregations in Valparaíso and Santiago soon began to sing, shout and speak in tongues (Cleary and Sepúlveda 1998: 99). Hoover’s fellow pentecostals break away from the American-founded Methodist church in 1910 to form a new church that eventually becomes known as the Methodist Pentecostal Church (Anderson 2004: 65).
- 1930s: A schism over leadership in the Methodist Pentecostal Church leads a group of Hoover’s followers to form what becomes known as the Evangelical Pentecostal Church, while the majority remain in the earlier church under the leadership of Manuel Umaña (Freston 2001: 214; Anderson 2004: 66).
- 1940s-50s: The Pentecostal Church of Chile breaks off from the Methodist Pentecostal Church in 1947 and the Pentecostal Mission Church breaks off from the Evangelical Pentecostal Church in 1952. These two new churches seek greater social activism and cooperation with other Protestants, and in 1961 they join the World Council of Churches (Freston 2001: 215-216). Other, non-Chilean pentecostal denominations, such as the Assemblies of God, establish churches in the 1940s (Fediakova 2004: 256).
- Starting in the 1940s, pentecostalism grows rapidly in the Central Valley countryside as well as in the lower-class districts of Valparaíso and Santiago (Cleary and Sepúlveda 1998: 100). Overall, national censuses show that Protestants grow from 1.5% of the population in 1930 to 5.6% in 1960 and to 6.2% in 1970 (Cleary and Sepúlveda 1998: 106).
- According to the Forum’s 2006 pentecostal survey, this growing Protestant population is one of the most “pentecostalized” in Latin America. Roughly two-thirds of all Protestants are either pentecostal or charismatic, and approximately one quarter of all Catholics are charismatic.
Religion and Politics
- In 1925 Chile formalizes the constitutional separation of church and state (Poblete 1999: 223). Before that time, pentecostals faced some persecution by the government “at the behest of the Catholic Church” (Bundy 2003: 55).
- During the 1940s, 50s and 60s, Bishop Umaña of the Methodist Pentecostal Church directs members to vote in a bloc in order to attract political attention (Freston 2001: 215). Some pentecostals become leaders in rural labor unions and neighborhood social service associations organized by Eduardo Frei Montalva’s Christian Democratic government in the 1960s (Freston 2001: 217; Cleary and Sepúlveda 1998: 103).
Allende Period, 1970-1973
- In the 1970 elections, which pitted the Christian Democrats against the left-wing Unidad Popular coalition of Salvador Allende, support for Allende may have been higher among pentecostals than non-pentecostals (Freston 2001: 218; Cox 1995: 170). In the 1971 municipal elections, a survey in Santiago finds that 77% of pentecostal respondents voted for Unidad Popular, compared with 66% of non-pentecostal respondents. The same survey finds that pentecostal respondents were more likely than non-pentecostal respondents to consider left-wing parties trustworthy (83% vs. 69%) (Freston 2001: 218).
- One possible reason for pentecostalism’s apparent affinity with the left is the historical association between the Christian Democratic Party and the Catholic Church, which alienates some Protestants and inclines them toward anti-clerical parties such as the Radical Party, a key ally in Allende’s Unidad Popular coalition (Freston 2001: 216-217).
- Possibly in response to Protestant support, Allende asks that the annual Te Deum prayer service held in honor of Chilean independence be no longer exclusively Catholic but also include Protestants (Freston 2001: 218).
- According to one survey, Protestantism in Santiago experiences a faster growth rate during Allende’s three years in office (1970-73) than in any previous three-year period, going from 5.5% to 8% of the city’s population (Freston 2004a: 229).
- As opposition to Allende mounts in 1973, some pentecostals express strong support for Allende but most who take a public position are less favorable (Freston 2001: 219).
Pinochet Period, 1973-1990
- After a September 1973 coup installs a military junta under Augusto Pinochet, some Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants, as well as some pentecostals, form the Committee of Cooperation for Peace to defend human rights (Freston 2001: 219).
- As relations between the junta and the Catholic bishops deteriorate in mid-1974, Pinochet invites Protestants, including pentecostals, to forge a close relationship with the government. The bishop of the Methodist Pentecostal Church responds by inviting Pinochet to the inauguration of its new cathedral and helps organize a gathering of 2,500 Protestants in December 1974 to show support for the junta (Freston 2001: 219-220).
- In September 1975, the Methodist Pentecostal Church takes over the Catholic Church’s traditional role of hosting the Te Deum service (Anderson 2004: 67). The evangelical Te Deum service is held in its cathedral each year, and is attended by the president and other political and military leaders (Agencia Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Comunicación [ALC], June 28, 2003).
- While some leaders of the Methodist Pentecostal Church reach out to Pinochet, other pentecostals demonstrate against the regime and are sent into exile or killed (Bundy 2003: 57). In a 1990 survey by Chile’s Centro de Estudios Públicos, a majority of observant pentecostal respondents express a negative opinion of Pinochet and identify themselves as politically independent, with less than 15% expressing sympathy for the political right (Cleary and Sepúlveda 1998: 114).
Redemocratization and the Campaign for Legal Equality, the 1990s to the Present
- After an opposition coalition wins the 1989 election, the new president, Patricio Aylwin, responds to complaints of discrimination by pentecostals by sending a law on religions to Congress in 1994, providing for equality of all religions. The bill stalls in the Senate, in part because the Catholic Church opposes changes in its legal status (Poblete 1999: 233). In October 1999, President Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle signs the bill into law (U.S. Department of State, 2005). A pentecostal bishop heads the committee of Protestants that advocates for the law during the 1990s (Quintero, Nov. 18, 2004).
- Pentecostal Bishop Salvador Pino Bustos runs for president as an independent candidate in the 1999 elections but fails to receive enough pentecostal and evangelical support to achieve a place on the ballot (Freston 2004c: 142).
- During the annual evangelical Te Deum service in September 2005, attended by Socialist President Ricardo Lagos and other presidential candidates, Bishop Bernardo Cartes of the Methodist Pentecostal Church calls on the government to support evangelical church construction as a “sign of equality” with the Catholic Church (ALC, Sept. 12, 2005).
- In December 2005 President Lagos signs a decree instituting October 31 as the “National Day of the Evangelical Churches.” Pentecostal Bishop Emiliano Soto represents the evangelical churches at the signing ceremony (Ministry of the Secretary General of the Presidency, Dec. 26, 2005).
- At a January 2006 meeting between evangelical leaders and newly-elected President Michelle Bachelet, a pentecostal pastor calls on the government to support evangelical religious education in public schools and evangelical chaplains (ALC, Jan. 16, 2006). In a March 2006 ceremony at the Methodist Pentecostal Church cathedral in Santiago, Bishop Cartes offers evangelicals’ support for the Bachelet government (Noticia Cristiana, March 27, 2006).
- In April 2006 President Bachelet announces a new executive Office of Religious Affairs to promote an “equalizing effect” between the different religions, as promised in her election campaign (ALC, April 19, 2006).
- President Bachelet invites two pentecostal bishops to serve as the evangelical representatives on a presidential advisory council on education organized in June 2006, following mass student demonstrations during the spring (Radio Antillanca, Aug. 17, 2006).
- Although some pentecostals urge President Bachelet not to attend the annual evangelical Te Deum service at the Methodist Pentecostal Church cathedral in protest against Bishop Cartes, who has been accused of corruption, the service proceeds as scheduled in September 2006 with the president in attendance (Radio Cooperativa, Sept. 2, 2006; Ossa, Sept. 12, 2006).